I’m facing a deadline.
It reminds me of the Mayan calendar thing from a few years ago; the world ends at the new year. On January 1, 2015, for the first time in 10 years I will not be a full-time youthworker. In fact, for the first time in nearly 20 years I won’t have ties to a local church youth group. It’s an awful lot to look back on and feels like even more to let go.
I’ve believed since I was in high school that my call to youth work was lifelong. I still believe that. And the apparent end here isn’t really a surprise; I’ve known since I’ve started that one day my call would push/pull me toward writing & speaking about youth and family ministry beyond the local youth room. Still, there’s mourning attached to my transition. It’s always been about the joy of living in relationship with young people at such a tender place on their spiritual journey, helping them sort through everything they’ve grown up believing and what they’re beginning to discover on their own. To step away from those relationships as a primary part of my ministry efforts hurts.
My family went for a bike ride the other day, and along the trail we discovered a sign that said, “THIS AREA CLOSED AT SUNSET.” We left our trail for another and came upon a sheer drop, walls of stone surrounding what appeared to have once been a flat clearing. Overlooking the drop were two concrete eagles in different degrees of deterioration. It freaked me out a little; I’ve grown accustomed to such things being accompanied by a historical marker explaining the site and usually guarded by some sort of safety precaution like a rope or a chain or a don’t-die-here sign at least 10′ away from the edge. But there wasn’t.
When I got home, Google came to the rescue. What we’d stumbled upon had once been a quarry. Prior to 1920, it was a source of gravel for roadworks around Chattanooga. The operation left a visible scar on the side of Lookout Mountain, and Adolf Ochs (for whom one of the roads up Lookout is now named) was determined to restore the area. He commissioned a hanging garden, intending to turn the place into a memorial for significant Chattanoogans. $20,000 was spent in the effort, a massive sum in the ’20s. Vines were planted to cover the steep sides, a pond blanketed in water lilies was installed at the base of the walls. The eagles – two remain of what may have been five – perched at the top of the walls, standing vigilant.
Google doesn’t seem to know what happened next.
The scene we saw was eerie; clearly we’d come upon something meaningful, but the air is always strange in places where meaning has been abandoned. The clearing below now stands filled with relatively young growth trees. English ivy runs rampant. We were told that one of the eagles had been stolen (a ludicrous undertaking) and later recovered by police. A monument dedicated to remembrance had itself been forgotten.
I think I hold an inner fear that my call to youth ministry could easily suffer a similar fate. I know my intentions; my family is taking a year off from volunteering (we need to reacquaint ourselves with Sabbath), but after that I’m going to be someone’s best youth volunteer. I genuinely believe that the work I’m being called to now is even deeper in the heart of youth ministry than the local church. I’m going to be reaching out to families and youthworkers and the very principles of age-level and family ministry, working for change and a return to Christians holding God at the center of the family experience.
But I’m human, and I don’t want my place in history to simply be a road bearing my name on the other side of the mountain from something beautiful I tried to create.
I want to stay in the garden.